Tips For Making Your First Speaking Appearance A Success

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Brianna Sansone is an associate attorney practicing in Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa’s commercial litigation, commercial workout and foreclosure groups.  Her practice is concentrated in complex commercial litigation, including creditor’s rights matters and commercial real estate foreclosures in which she regularly represents financial institutions and other lenders in litigation arising out of commercial transactions, contract disputes, and real estate matters. Illinois.  In 2012, Brianna was designated as a ‘Rising Star’ in Illinois by Super Lawyers magazine. Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa is proudly marking its 120th year anniversary in 2012, making it one of Chicago’s oldest law firms.

You’re a lawyer now.  You have sat through hours of lectures, spent countless days studying in the library, and passed the bar exam.  In between all of that, you may have even managed to participate in a few extra-curricular activities, such as moot court or law review.  But where all of that endless preparation and practice stops, the real world begins. 

Law school may have prepared you to think like a lawyer, but most law graduates find it takes added refining to act like a lawyer.  Public speaking is the perfect way not only to hone your skills as a lawyer, but also to market yourself to prospective employers, peers, and clients as an expert in a particular area of law.  It is never too early to begin establishing yourself as a specialist. 

            Finding Public Speaking Opportunities.  Most bar associations, including the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, offer educational programs to lawyers and the public.  The first step is to become active in your local chapters by attending events where you can meet the chairs and directors who work behind the scenes.Forge relationships with those in charge and express your interest in participating in speaking events and seminars. 

You should also become familiar with the trade groups that impact your area of law because they often host events and seminars that offer a platform for public speaking.  For instance, if you practice or wish to practice corporate transactional law or commercial litigation, then the Turnaround Management Association (TMA) is right up your alley.  Trade associations, such as TMA, have committees geared toward new practitioners.  These types of committees can assist you in creating and hosting your own speaking events, such as round table discussions on new and developing areas of the law. 

Finally, it should come as no surprise that neighborhood business bureaus, community groups, and churches are always looking for ways to provide free services to their members.  Tap into these markets, and you are sure to find a captive audience.

            Determining Your Audience.  Once you have booked a speaking engagement, the next step is to consider your audience.  Who is in attendance will determine the scope, tone, and purpose of your speech. 

For instance, if you are presenting to a local church group on immigration and nationalization issues, you do not want to be too technical.  Your audience is most likely potential clients interested in learning if they need your services and how to find you when and if they do.  You will want to present yourself as a trustworthy and knowledgeable resource for their future needs. 

            On the other hand, if you are hosting a round table discussion with peers, you may want to delve into the more abstract issues currently facing your practice.  If you present yourself as a qualified and path-charting expert, you may begin to see the referrals pouring in.  

            To Prepare or Not Prepare: That is the Question.  Often the most rewarding and enlightening lectures are outlined, but not written out verbatim.  Your level of preparation should not be akin to drafting the State of the Union Address.  Instead, plot out only the main topics you wish to address, such as policy, procedure, and developing law.  Informal settings tend to make people relax and open up.  You should be well-prepared but not scripted, so you come across as approachable and informed. After all, you want your audience to feel confident that they can contact you if they need your services. 

            Overcoming Stage Fright.  The general population may assume that since you are a lawyer, you love being the center of attention, which is not always the case.  If you are among the majority of Americans who dislike public speaking, there is help.  No, do not picture your audience in their underwear.  Instead, practice your skills early and often.  Sometimes taking the plunge is all you need to build your confidence.  The more experience you have under your belt, the easier it gets.  And, after all, you have done your research, and you have prepared your outline.  The more familiar you are with the subject matter of your speech, the more relaxed you will appear (even if you are sweating bullets underneath it all). 

            Well that was easy.  Lastly, and most importantly, be mindful of your audience’s time.  Know when to wrap it up and how.  Fifteen to twenty minutes is a reasonable length of time in which you can expect to get your points across while maintaining your audience’s attention.  Opening the floor to questions and comments, or inviting your guests to mingle, usually provides a good closing and a seamless transition to the true purpose of your speaking engagement:  networking.  

            Think Marketing.  Networking is not as simple as scoring a business card.  The most lasting and fulfilling client, peer, and employer relationships start organically.  Through public speaking engagements, you can easily begin to build a name for yourself.  If people know where to find you, they eventually will.  First, however, you should make it known what it is you have to offer.  Public speaking engagements are the perfect means to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and expertise as a lawyer.   

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